Monthly Archives: November 2007

Italy 2007: Questions from the Road

McUmeboshi and McCinghiale:  Siobhan asks if there actually is McGruyere and McEmmental.  Oh, if only I could have made them up.   I’ve always found regional McDonalds offerings to be quite amusing: While in Japan a few years ago I had a white peach milkshake, some sort of seasonal thing.  I was this close to buying a McRib sandwich in Frankfurt while waiting for my return flight to Toronto.

Zamçeno: The Forbidden Dance:  Rob correctly surmised that zamçeno does mean “locked”, though I suspect the entire television was set to Czech, as hlasitost appears to mean volume in that language.

One Lens:  One of the largest concerns I had was over lens
selection for travel photography.  I ended up taking:

  • Canon EF 17-85mm f4-5.6 IS (Image Stabilized)
  • Canon EF 24-70mm f2.8L
  • Canon EF 50mm f1.8 Mark II

Well, in retrospect:  I shouldn’t have bothered with the 50mm, I didn’t use it at all.   Any medium length portraits or shallow DOF shot I could do with the 24-70mm. I was correct in not taking my 70-200 f2.8L IS, it is far too expensive and heavy.  However, I should have brought a f4 consumer class telephoto like a 75-300mm f4-5.6 or Sigma 55-200 f4-5.6 in the space where I had the 50mm because a tele is handy for shooting architectural details and getting depth compression on landscapes.

In summary:  While the choice between 24-70 and 17-85 was solved by bringing both (On a APS-C crop body 24mm isn’t wide enough, f4 isn’t fast enough and IS did and will save my ass) in all honesty, I think the real answer is:  Bring one lens, you’ll figure out how to make do with it in most situations.

A Song for a Rained Out Photo Kind of Day: Midnight Hymn by Yanni.  No, I’m serious.

Watch Out for Gypsies:  During the entire time I saw one gypsy and someone had to point her out to me.  I also saw three gypsy children playing accordions, but again, only my friend Diana pointed it out on a photo I’d shot.  I just thought they were three street kids who played accordion.  I wasn’t pickpocketed either, all my clothing is intact, though I did rip my pant pocket snagging the seat arm while sitting down in the Lufthansa flight going home.  I guess I was lucky.

Total Frame Count:  2731 frames, 21GBytes of pictures, all shot in Canon CR2 RAW format.  I guess I’m going to have CanonDPP cooking overtime on these things.

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Italy 2007, Day 13

Italy 2007: Day 13

This last entry is being written on an Italian high speed ETR500 class train.  We’re currently pulling out of Bologna on the way back from Venice.  My own goal was to leave Venice earlier, but because it’s the first of November and All Saints Day, the trains were full and we could only get a seat on the 3:48PM out of Venice to Rome.

Taking the vaporetto today, we turned a corner and came upon a view of the Santa Marie de Salute church, shrouded in scaffolding, itself on a spear of a island tip just before the main waterway.  I struggled to get a shot out from the lower deck:  I’d opened the gritty window to get a shot to have an old man curse me for bringing the cold winds from outside, then the boat had turned to lose the angle.  I finally just flung the camera out of the boat and fired it in the general direction with all AF points active.  Strangely enough, it worked great.

We started by going to visit the Basilica at the end of the Piazza San Marco.  Because of the religious holiday, the main hall was closed, but we did get to look at the artifacts on display.  The thrush of tourists around us grew, so we walked across the Ponte dell’Accademia and walked towards the Peggy Guggenheim Collection.

I’ve visited the Guggenheim proper in Manhattan with my cousin in 2005.  This museum the personal collection of Peggy Guggenheim, niece of Solomon who started the one in New York.  It’s an unusual collection of modern art in Venice, featuring painters like Kandinsky, Picasso and Pollack in a country of much older classic artwork.  I enjoyed the collection which also features a sculpture gallery outdoors.  The Guggenheim is often staffed by art students studying abroad, and in every room was an attendant that seemed unusually well versed.

We took the vaporetto around the Grand Canale one more time back to the train station for our departure to Rome.  On the train we’ve had shared some wine and cheese and now are bracing for our last evening in Roma until we disperse back to our homes.

Overall the trip has been exciting and fulfilling:  I wanted to see this country, eat some good food, take some good pictures.  The tour itself was well organized to explore opportunities and places I’d likely never have gone to myself; we got to eat a ton of good food, which even when mediocre was good; and I think I took a lot of photographs which pushed my own capability.

My first trip seriously considering photography was in 2005 with Nadine to Japan, previous to that I’d just been taking snapshots.  That was a chance to really figure out the dimensions of photography while out on the road.  This trip I tried to not just take pictures of where I was, but to get images for the goal of capturing interesting subjects, regardless of their location.  2700 frames and 20GB later, I think I’m happy I got the chance to at least be exposed to those subjects in this fair country.

I’d written a list of countries and places I wanted to see, Italy was one of the last ones.  But, just as I was ready to finish that list with Italy, I find myself with more countries to add:  France perhaps in 2008, Russia if it’s at all possible and safe.   So tomorrow it’s back onto a plane to Frankfurt am Main, then Toronto bound.

Italy 2007, Day 12

Italy 2007: Day 12

The room is moving and yet I didn’t have a drink tonight:  I spent most of today on vaporetto, the ferry buses that ply the canals around Venice, taking both tourists and locals around the island, and my sense of balance hasn’t returned.  There are predetermined stops, typically a structure on what appears to be a barge docked to the side of the canal.   These barges have few safety precautions, which, unlike the nanny-state that is North America, is refreshing.  The boats themselves are roughly thirty to fourty feet long and powered by marine diesels, presumably with some sort of station keeping or maneuvering capability, as they can be manhandled into position for docking.  The pilot docks the boat, and a deckhand/porter ties the ship up for less than a minute to onload and offload passengers.  Then it’s off to the next stop.

Today was much nicer with bright sunshine and a blue sky over Venice.  I’ve been fairly happy with the weather because we’re off season and as a result, not in the heat.  The cool weather allows us to move about without sweating too much, yet without snow to hamper us.  The only price we’ve paid is the rain, which dampens our schedule.

While waiting to leave to Murano, I got a chance to see some of the vessels that run around Venice.  Though it seems like a comic book or science fiction element, Venice really does live on the water and the canals are used for daily trade and life.  It’s not like Vegas where the canals are solely for entertainment:  Today I saw a Coke dispenser being loaded onto boat, a grocer selling produce off the side of a canal from his skiff, and some construction workers dumping wheelbarrows of stone and dirt onto a barge.  The waters surrounding Venice have large ship operations like cruise liners and cargo ships just off the island.  The vaporettos and other ships of that class seem to work around the islands outside perimeter and even to the other major islands.  These seem to be delivery boats and the like.  The inner canal, Canal Grande, has both the vaporettos, delivery boats and also water taxis, while the very smallest canalas are home to the Gondola, for tourists.  Many of the delivery boats are driven by a hand on the throttle and an asscheek on the tiller:  Most appear to be configured with the rudder control such that the captain can steer by sitting and leaning to one direction or another.

More frighteningly, while people on our streets often drive and talk, many of the Venetians are guilty of boating and talking on their cellphones!

The island of Murano is not too far from the main island of Venice, which either by coincidence or purpose, looks like a fish from the map.  If Venice is a fish, I guess Murano is a bubble it hiccuped.  You take the DM Linea (Direct to Murano Line) boat to this island famous for glass production and boutiques.

It was an amazing feeling to be out on the ocean.  Though the vaporetto bobbed as we moved away from Venice, supertankers and ocean liners in view, the wind blowing and the spray felt liberating and energizing.

In one of the shops, we watched a craftsman blow glasswares, going through a short demonstration of manufacturing various items:  A component of a chandelier, a vase, and a figurine of a horse.  The chandelier and vase seemed fairly typical but the formation of the horse was really neat:  The guy knew exactly how long it would take for limb to cool and sort of flung the workpiece around like taffy.  Yet he had an understanding for the material which allowed him to almost fling and catch the soft glass, slowing in motion until they solidified completely.

I suppose the hallmark of the old world in Europe is tradition and quality, if the contribution of America is industrial mass production.  There isn’t the emphasis on craftsmanship or pride of work at home, as the modern production system values in the interchangeability of people as components.  Meanwhile, these guys have worked their trade for years.

We were ushered into a showroom to see some of the glasswares:  Some of them include pendants and vases, picture frames and paperweights.  Having recently visited an exhibit on paperweights at the Royal Ontario Museum, I knew roughly how some of these things were made and an idea of their complexity:  I asked about a large egg shaped sculpture, which I later found out was 500 euros.  Wow.  I managed to pick out the most stylish, most simple object in the room and it was also the most expensive.   Another type of glasswork featured bundles of coloured fibres melted and cut across, making crosssections of coloured patterns.  I thought they are by far the most attractive.  Despite the beauty and craftsmanship overall, some of the stuff was really hard to place:  I just can’t see anyone putting up some of these chandeliers in a modern home.  I guess that’s what you have the Victoria and Albert Museum in London for.

I bought a pint of strawberries or fragola from the skiff owner and ate them while walking back to the vaporetto stop.  They seemed natural and fresh, unlike the corporate farm grown strawberries we find in supermarkets in Canada.  The rest of the day I spent walking around Venice in better sunlight.

I watched tourists in the Piazza San Marco playing with the birds.  Thousands of pigeons scamper around, landing on tourists who have cleverly purchased seeds from the local vendors to feet them.  You don’t even need feed for them, they’ll land right on you as you shoot photographs, as I learned.  Two girls from South Africa who I met there found out that the birds will also drop on you too, especially in your hair.

I also went to the Ponte Rialto, very similar to the Ponte Vecchio in Florence.  On each side there is an open set of stairs, but in the middle, a set of shops line the inside.  There I saw a guy shooting with a 70-200mm f2.8L IS.  I congratulated him on his dedication when he mentioned it was a professional shooter with a bunch of others in his group taking pictures for catalogs, stock and calendars: A second later a second guy with a 70-200 showed up, and then a third with a 16-35mm f2.8 appeared.  It was kinda scary.

For dinner tonight I met back up with the group:  I had Venetian style liver and polenta, which was prepared with white wine and onions and was very flavourful.  Tomorrow I’m returning early to Rome by high speed train to try and see St Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican, this will be our last day until flying out in the wee hours of Friday morning.